On Saturday, Dutch activists said they had managed to gather two thirds of the signatures needed to force the government to hold a referendum on the EU-Canada Free-Trade treaty (CETA). This is a possible new reversal after the Walloon resistance to this agreement.
The CETA, which has been negotiated over the last 7 years, was signed in Brussels at the end of October. The signing was delayed by several days because of Walloon concerns, which caused disagreement between Belgians.
The agreement will be applied in a provisory way over the next few months. It removed 99% of customs rules between the EU and Ottawa. The treaty has to be approved by the national and regional EU Parliaments to become definitive.
The Dutch citizen groups are calling for a referendum to decide if Parliament must ratify the Treaty, same as the unpopular TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or Transatlantic Free Trade Area (Tafta) discussion with the US.
A petition launched in October 2015 has gained momentum over the last few weeks. It already has 190,400 signatures out of the 300,000 necessary to force the government to hold a referendum.
In April, a similar consulting referendum held by Eurosceptic groups rejected a key agreement between the EU and the Ukraine. This put the Prime Minister Mark Rutte in a difficult position with the 27 EU countries that have already signed the Treaty. It may force them to try and negotiate a compromise.
If the 300,000 signatures are collected, a referendum would not be held for several months, and definitely not before the legislative elections in March.
Sarah Johansson (Source: Belga)